Category: ww1 history

Soviet forces pictured in Baku in May 1920.

April 28 1920, Baku–After the defeat of Denikin in the Kuban, the Reds turned their attentions south to the Transcaucasus.  Their first target was the oil-rich Caspian port of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.  The Bolsheviks had the most support there, having led the Baku Commune briefly in the summer of 1918 before the Turkish advance on the city.  After the end of the war, the British returned to replace the Turks, but only remained until August 1919.

In late April, Bolsheviks in Baku mobilized and demanded the nationalist government surrender power, which they eventually did to avoid bloodshed.  The Baku Bolsheviks “requested Soviet military assistance,” which arrived the next day, April 28, in the form of armored trains.  That day, the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was declared; it would not regain full independence until 1991.  The new Soviet regime was not universally accepted, and there were uprisings against it that would tie down an entire Soviet army into the summer.

The Soviets were less successful in Armenia and Georgia; similar local uprisings by the Bolsheviks the next month failed, and a tentative Red Army probe into Georgia was beaten back.  The Soviets were also reluctant to engage in direct conflict with the British, who still occupied Batum [Batumi] on the Black Sea coast.  On May 7, the Soviets signed a treaty with Georgia’s Menshevik government, recognizing that country’s independence in exchange for Georgia’s agreement not to host White forces and to allow Georgian Bolsheviks to freely organize.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War

The Allied representatives at San Remo, pictured after the issuing of the resolution on April 25.

April 25 1920, San Remo–The question of how to divide the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern possessions had been preoccupying many in Britain and France since at least 1915.  An agreement was not reached during the Paris Peace Conference after a shouting match between Clemenceau and Lloyd George ended with Clemenceau challenging the British PM to a duel.

By the spring of 1920, however, the question could not be postponed much further.  On March 7, Feisal was declared King of Syria, a kingdom the Syrian Congress hoped would encompass not only modern-day Syria, but Lebanon, Transjordan, and Palestine as well.  On March 20, the Maronite Christians in Lebanon, who had long been under French protection, declared their own independence.  As for Turkey proper, the Allies had occupied Constantinople on March 16, while Kemal was busy setting up his own government in Ankara

On April 19, Lloyd George, Italian PM Nitti, the new French PM Millerand, and the Japanese Ambassador to France met at San Remo to finally work out an agreement regarding the peace with the Ottoman Empire.  The United States only sent observers, and the Arabs were not represented at all.  On April 25, the conference issued a resolution outlining the shape of the peace:

France would receive a League of Nations mandate over Syria, while Britain would receive a mandate over Palestine and Mesopotamia.  These were the least restrictive mandates under the League of Nations charter, for areas whose “existence as independent nations
can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative
advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand
alone.”  Britain would be responsible for putting into effect the Balfour Declaration, establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, provided that nothing would “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”  France would receive 25% of the production from the Mosul oilfields; Britain, the other 75%.

Many issues were left unresolved by the San Remo Conference.  It did not address Anatolia or Thrace at all; Italy, whose interests laid there, did not approve the resolution.  The precise boundaries between the mandates were left unresolved, leaving the final status of Transjordan and the area around Der Zor unclear.  The Ottomans’ former possessions in Arabia were not addressed at all; while the Allies had recognized the Hashemite Kingdom of Hejaz, Hussein had not signed the Treaty of Versailles.  Yemen was still being fought over by Imam Yahya and the the British-aligned Idrisids.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Petliura (second from left) meeting with Polish generals during or shortly before the offensive.

April 25 1920, Zhitomir–Poland had been steadily expanding its holdings in the East since gaining independence at the end of the war.  The fighting against the Reds in Russia was relatively limited character; they took Vilnius in April 1919 and Minsk in August, but did not intervene during the major White offensives of the summer and fall of 1919.  The civil war in Russia gave Poland opportunities to expand while the Russians were divided, but Poland had no particular desire to see a White victory, as the Whites had never accepted Polish independence.

By the spring of 1920, however, the Whites had been largely defeated, with the only significant resistance remaining confined to Crimea and Transbaikal.  This let the Reds turn their attention back west.  Polish signals intelligence concluded that a Red offensive was coming, and Piłsudski decided to pre-empt this by launching an offensive of his own.

The main concentration of Red forces was to be north of the Pripet, directed at Minsk; Piłsudski decided to attack to the south, towards Kiev.  

Piłsudski hoped that a quick victory there would let him concentrate his forces to the north when a Red offensive came; to this end, he enlisted the support of the Ukrainians.  On April 21, he signed a treaty with Symon Petliura, head of the Ukrainian government-in-exile that had fled after the Red takeover in February 1919.  

Piłsudski pledged to support Petliura’s return to power in Kiev in exchange for recognition of Polish rights to the much-disputed former Austrian territories in Galicia.

On April 25, the Polish Army, assisted by 15,000 Ukrainians loyal to Petliura, launched their offensive.  The Poles sent their cavalry deep into the Red rear, hoping to cut off their lines of retreat.  However, the Red armies simply folded and began running back towards the Dnepr, offering little resistance after the second day.  There were too many men for the Polish cavalry to stop, and over two-thirds of the Reds were able to escape; Piłsudski had failed in his aim to destroy the Red forces in the area.  Hoping that the Reds would mount a more substantial defense in front of Kiev and that he could destroy an army there, 

Piłsudski paused to let the Reds regroup.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Adam Zamoyski, Warsaw 1920.

April 23 1920, Ankara–Constantinople came under full Allied occupation in March, and the Ottoman Parliament dissolved itself soon thereafter.  While this move protected the Christian inhabitants of Constantinople, it only strengthened Kemal’s Turkish nationalists in Anatolia.  On April 23, he convened a Grand National Assembly in Ankara, which styled itself as a provisional government for the Ottoman Empire while Constantinople and the Sultan’s official government was under Allied occupation.  Many of the new assembly’s members were members of the Ottoman Parliament who had been able to flee Constantinople the previous month.  Kemal was soon elected the new government’s Speaker and Prime Minister.

Kemal’s consolidation of power was not uncontested; around the same time, the Sultan attempted to organize an “Army of the Caliphate” to oppose Kemal’s nationalists.  However, the Sultan’s inextricable links to the Allies (now that his seat of power was under Allied occupation) made it difficult for his forces to gain popular support.

April 4 1920, Vladivostok–Most of the Allied presence in and around Russia had come to an end by the spring of 1920.  The Allies had evacuated Archangel and Murmansk the previous year.  In February, Estonia had signed a peace treaty with Russia, ending the Royal Navy’s adventures in the Baltic.  There was still an Allied naval presence in the Black Sea assisting White forces in Crimea, but the Allies were unwilling to prop up a lost cause nearly a year and a half after their war ended.  On April 1, the United States pulled its last troops out of Russia, from Vladivostok.

The American departure gave the Japanese essentially a free hand in the area; the only other significant Allied presence was the Czechs, who just wanted to be out of Russia. On April 4, the Japanese formally occupied Vladivostok, and throughout the spring would attempt to solidify control of the entire Primorskaia region to the north of the city.  Japanese forces would range as far as Lake Baikal along the Trans-Siberian railroad, propping up various anti-Soviet elements as buffers between themselves and the Reds in Irkutsk and beyond.  The Reds had no particular desire to tangle with Japan while the situation in the west remained unsettled, and the Japanese would remain in the Russian Far East for well over two years.

Sources include: Evan Mawsdley, The Russian Civil War.

March 27 1920, Novorossiysk–The Volunteer Army, which at one point had threatened Moscow, now just hoped to escape capture by the Reds after their Don line broke in early March.  The major port available to them was Novorossiysk, two years earlier the last refuge of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the Germans.  British, French, and American ships helped evacuate as many as possible, taking over 34,000 men of the Volunteer Army to the last stronghold of the Whites in the area, in Crimea.  In the earlier days of the evacuation, they even moved 22,000 Red PoWs.  

The evacuation was not even close to complete, however, when Red forces approached the town and brought an end to it on March 27; over 80,000 troops and over 100,000 refugees were left behind.  22,000 men were captured when the Reds entered Novorossiysk; some were able to escape to Tuapse instead, further down the coast, and some were evacuated before the Reds reached the town on April 8.  The rest of the Volunteer Army left behind would surrender in Sochi at the end of April.

The defeats and the botched evacuation forced Denikin out of the command of the remaining White forces in Crimea; on April 1, he stepped down and was replaced by Wrangel.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.


Nebraska Senator Hitchcock, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

March 19 1920, Washington–The US Senate took up the question of the Treaty of Versailles again on February 9.  Wilson had, for the most part, not moderated his stance–the full treaty, without reservations, was necessary to preserve the peace.  He still believed the public was behind him (having not been in public since September), and was growing increasingly paranoid; he sacked the Secretary of State on February 13 when he learned that Lansing had been holding impromptu cabinet meetings while Wilson was convalescing.

The treaty, with Lodge’s “Fourteen Reservations” and a fifteenth one supporting Irish independence, came up for a ratification vote on March 19.  Ultimately, Democratic Senate Leader Hitchcock, could not bring himself to break with Wilson on the matter of reservation, and the vote failed, 49 yeas to 35 nays (a two-thirds majority is required for treaty ratification).  Hitchcock would call the vote the greatest mistake of his life.

Sources include: Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist.

March 17 1920, Ekaterinodar [Krasnodar]–After retreating behind the Don in early January, Denikin’s forces had stabilized there for a time.  In February, they had even launched a counterattack, retaking Rostov on February 20.  However, it came too late; the Red cavalry had already launched an attack along the railway from Tsaritsyn [Volgograd] to Ekaterinodar six days earlier, which threatened to outflank the White position on the Don.  Denikin sent his own cavalry to try to counter the threat, but bitter winter temperatures of -15 °F (-22 °C) killed many horses and men, and what arrived was quickly dispatched by the Reds.  Denikin’s forces fell back, hoping to make another stand on the Kuban River.

By mid-March, however, the White forces had essentially fallen apart.  This new retreat, after the even longer one last year, proved too much–and it was further exacerbated by attacks from “Green” SR-led forces in their rear.  No effective defense was mounted on the Kuban, and the Whites evacuated the city on March 17.  The Volunteer Army, accompanied by many refugees, continued its march south towards the Black Sea and the hope of escape.

One of the approximately ten Turkish soldiers killed while the Allies began their occupation of Constantinople.

March 16 1920, Constantinople [Istanbul]–With the treaties with Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria settled, the Allies were turning their attention again to the Ottoman Empire; a conference in London to discuss the shape of the peace there opened on February 12.  Events also moved swiftly in the Ottoman Empire, with the Kemalist-dominated parliament publishing its National Pact on the same day, vowing Turkish control of Constantinople and Muslim-majority areas in Anatolia, and promising to protect Christian minorities only if Muslim minorities in neighboring countries were also protected.  The Allies grew concerned that the government might not sign a peace treaty they were planning, and that Christian minorities were in serious danger in Kemalist-controlled areas, as they had been under the Young Turk regime during the war.

Kemal’s base in Ankara was out of reach of the Allies, but Constantinople was not; Allied troops had been present there since November 12, 1918.  Starting on March 14, Allied troops began a more complete occupation of the city, taking key communications and military buildings and arresting five Kemalist members of parliament by the time the occupation was made official on March 16.  There was some shooting between Turkish and British Indian troops, resulting in 15-20 dead between the two sides.  Those arrested would be exiled to Malta, joining Young Turk officials who had been moved there in 1919. The Ottoman parliament effectively dissolved itself in protest on the 18th; many of its members would go to Ankara and join what would effectively become the new Turkish government there.

The Allies were now securely in control of Constantinople, and would be for over three and a half years.  Christian minorities in the city were now under the direct protection of the Allies.  However, the occupation only strengthened Kemal’s position in Anatolia–the only effective government in Turkey was under his control in Ankara, out of reach of the Allies.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Raymond Kévorkian, The Armenian Genocide: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War.

Members of the Ehrhardt brigade in Berlin on March 13.  The swastika was not at this point exclusively associated with the Nazis (at this point a minor political party that was too far removed from Berlin to play a significant role in the putsch before it collapsed), though the symbol clearly had strongly reactionary connotations at this point.

March 13 1920, Berlin–Despite provisions in the Versailles Treaty against them, and the end of German involvement in the Baltic, the German right-wing paramilitary Freikorps remained a powerful force in Germany.  On February 29, war minister Noske ordered the dissolution of two of the largest Freikorps groups.  One of them, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, refused to comply, and received backing from the commander of Berlin’s regular army troops, General Lüttwitz, who demanded (among other things) a dissolution of the National Assembly and new elections for the Reichstag.  When Chancellor Ebert did not accede, he ordered the Ehrhardt brigade into Berlin to seize government buildings; they began to move at 10PM on March 12.

No regular military troops resisted the Ehrhardt brigade.  In an emergency session at 4AM on March 13, Ebert’s cabinet decided (with significant dissent) to flee the city for Dresden (and when that city proved unfriendly, Stuttgart) and to call for a general strike against the putsch.  The meeting was cut short so that they could avoid capture by the Freikorps.  Lüttwitz installed Wolfgang Kapp, from the right-wing DNVP, as the new chancellor.  He was also joined by Ludendorff (who had largely been out of the picture since his sacking in the final weeks of the war) and con man and “spy” Trebitsch-Lincoln, who served as his press censor.

Ebert’s call for a strike was wildly successful; by March 15, over twelve million workers were participating.  Lüttwitz’ position became untenable, and the non-left-wing parties attempted to ease him out of Berlin.  On March 18, Lüttwitz resigned and the Ehrhardt brigade left Berlin (shooting some civilians who jeered at them while they did so) and Ebert’s government returned to Berlin two days later.  

Ultimately, despite its failure, the results of the Kapp Putsch were a victory of sorts for reactionary forces in Germany.  Lüttwitz’s allies did eventually get many of their demands anyway; the National Assembly would be dissolved the next month and Reichstag elections were moved forward.  The Freikorps continued its prominent role in post-war Germany, as in the coming weeks they were used to end the general strike in the Ruhr (which had continued after the end of the putsch).  A right-wing government took control of Bavaria at the same time, and Ludendorff continued his political intrigues there.